Sons: Home And Away

We recently lost Middle Son and his partner to London.  They had been staying in our rental ‘tin house’ a couple of villages away from us while London stagnated and then started to bounce back from the Coronavirus lockdown.  Now he is back enjoying a resurgent but safer (I hope) London.  However, we have been compensated by a recent visit to Northern Ireland to see Youngest Son (YS) and his partner and then, over the last few days, a visit to us by Eldest Son (ES) and his partner on their way to a wedding.

Dunluce Castle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland; Emerging From Morning Mist

These contacts with our sons are priceless.  When I was working there didn’t seem much time for more than transactional exchanges with them.  Of course, now it is they who are time-constrained by work. However, since retirement, I feel more relaxed and have more time to understand their lives and what makes them tick.

Plus, they live in wonderful places.  We loved our trip to Edinburgh to see ES a couple of months ago Now, all things being well, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I are planning further trips there later in the year pre and post-grandfatherhood/grandmotherhood.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has continued to surprise and our trip a couple of weekends ago to see YS there was lovely and, once again, enlightening.  We were lucky that our trip coincided with the rarest of events in Northern Ireland – a warm and sunny period of weather!  I’m joking, but certainly the weather was a treat and helped show off Belfast and surrounds in their best light.

Sunset Over Orlock Point From The Old Coach Road, County Down, Northern Ireland

YS was, as ever, keen to ensure we saw the best of County Down and County Antrim.  He planned an itinerary for us of forest walks, waterfalls, mountain walks and coastal walks and drives.  The trip was dotted with excellent breakfasts and dinners in cafes and restaurants run by young, creative entrepreneurs who have imported the best of big city cuisine to Belfast and the nearby towns.  The high quality reminded us of or meals in Australia when we went there.  Even in Ballymena which seemed relatively run down, there was a café, Middletown Coffee Co, selling some of the best breakfast fare I have had; the toastie was tremendous.   

In a similar vein, Boundary Brewing, which we went to on our first night in Belfast, was just about the best pop up warehouse bar I had ever been to.  A lot of Belfast is rather unreformed with architecture focused on function and security but pockets of Belfast are truly inspirational in the way they are taking off with creative businesses, eateries and drinking holes.

Boundary Brewing: Wonderful Space, Wonderful View, Wonderful Beer, Wonderful Pizza

Of course, YS maintained his reputation for taking us off to see wonderful sunsets and sunrises.  The sunrise we saw demanded a 4.00am departure but YS’s enthusiasm as he prepared everything the night before for coffee by a campfire as the sun came up, and his willingness to allow us all to snooze in the car as he hurtled to the 5.20am sunrise, was compelling.  We made it to a deserted White Park Bay just as the sun peeked over the horizon and through the just-enough-cloud that YS had laid on for us. 

Perfect Sunrise Over White Parks Beach, County Antrim

I think we will all remember the moment for ever; or at least until the next sunrise YS takes us to.

Finding A Spot For A Campfire and Coffee; Plenty Of Options At This Time Of The Morning!

Breakfast that day was also excellent; this time it was in Portstewart at Awaken.  By the time we had driven the coast road back to YS’s home we were ready for a quiet pint in a local pub, a gentle stroll in a nearby park, a nap and a pause in eating before setting out to another well-appointed new restaurant, Yugo East.  There we had a multi-course, fixed-price menu of considerable sophistication.  I’m not sure why I didn’t expect this level of quality in Belfast but I am coming to do so.

Our forest walk was at Glenariff Forest Park which was delightful and which we will return to when there is more water to gush through the narrow ravines and over the numerous waterfalls. 

One Of The Many Waterfalls In Glenariff Forest Park

We then walked up a mountain, created from a pre-historic volcanic plug, called Slemish.  This dominates the landscape between Ballymena and the coast and provides great views.  We didn’t need to rush in the warm weather, there were occasional cooling breezes, and the panorama from the top was a great reward for the scramble up and down.

Looking North From Slemish, County Antrim

Our final day was quieter since YS and his partner had to return to work.  After another great breakfast at General Merchants  in East Belfast, LSW and I simply boarded a public bus and travelled from the far west side of Belfast via the Falls Road and back again.  The bold murals lining some of the route are a clear reminder of Belfast’s past.  The burnt patches of land resulting from the Battle of the Boyne bonfire celebrations in mid-July are a reminder than there are still strong tensions below the surface of Northern Irish life. 

Some Of The More Modern Murals In Belfast

We took in an architectural tour of the city centre and had a final fill up at Established Coffee before a last walk with YS down the Comber Greenway (the first of a large network of such cycle/walk ways being implemented across Northern Ireland) built on the route of the now defunct Belfast and County Down railway.  YS then whisked us off to the airport and home. 

Both trips we have made to YS’s new home in Northern Ireland have been great and we know there is lots more to see.   We will be back again soon but armed with waterproof clothing since surely we can’t be as luck with the weather again?

YS Even Laid On Dolphin Watching At Portstewart!

Out And About In Northern Ireland

Youngest Son (YS) took us out for two major trips away from Belfast while we were visiting him for the first time in his new environment in Northern Ireland.  The first was a drive south for a walk in the Mourne Mountains in County Down.  Then he persuaded us to make a very early start to visit the Giant’s Causeway on the north coast of Antrim.  YS loves sunrises and sunsets; on trips he has arranged for us in England, Australia and now Northern Ireland he has repeatedly proven that he is fully justified in that!

Sunrise Starting To Illuminate The Giants Causeway, Antrim, Northern Ireland

Sunrise Starting To Illuminate The Giant’s Causeway, Antrim, Northern Ireland

The first thing that struck me when we approached the Mourne Mountains was the character of the stone walling separating fields and gardens.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I are very familiar with stone walls since they are ubiquitous in The Cotswolds.  Indeed, we are currently having a few new ones built to create some terracing in our garden.  But the walls around the Mourne Mountains are very different and very striking.  Essentially they are huge, rounded granite boulders placed on top of each other so their very weight gives the walls strength.

Granite Wall In The Mourne Mountains

Granite Wall In The Mourne Mountains

Even more impressive was the fact that these walls not only skirted the mountain slopes but also sat on the ridge lines right up and over the highest peaks.  The ‘Mourne Wall’ was constructed between in the early 1900’s to define and enclose the catchment area for the Silent Valley Reservoir.  The wall is 22 miles long, crosses the peaks of 15 mountains and keeps farm animals away from the reservoirs and rivers that flow into them.  It’s an amazing feature – both in terms of simple engineering and of beauty.

Walking Up Beside Part Of The Mourne Wall

Walking Up Beside Part Of The Mourne Wall

We were blessed with perfect weather for walking.  It was sunny but a great deal cooler than the simultaneous overbearing and sweltering weather back home in Gloucestershire.  The wispy and puffy clouds not only helped with the backdrops to the photos but created a constantly shifting, dappled shade across the muted mauves, greens, greys and browns of the mountainsides.

Views And Granite Rock Formations At The Summits

Views And Granite Rock Formations At The Summits

The circular walk was challenging but not exhausting.  The views from the peaks of Wee Binnian and Slieve Binnian were easily worth the exertion.  The subsequent substantial and carbohydrate laden brunch at Railway St felt very well deserved.

Our second trip out of Belfast with YS started before 5.30am.  YS drove us snoozy oldsters out to the Giant’s Causeway Heritage Site.  We effectively had the place to ourselves throughout our visit and as the sun rose over the cliffs and started to illuminate the causeway, we felt very privileged and pleased with YS’s insistence on an early start.

The Giants Causeway

The Giants Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway itself was much as I had expected – after all, it is so well documented in pictures including some we had seen when YS had visited the place a few weeks earlier.  What was a more unexpected pleasure was the walk around the adjacent cliffs and the ruggedness of the nearby coast.  That feeling of wildness was enhanced by the lack of other visitors at such an early hour, but also by the path closure signs (which we partially ignored) which warned of rock falls for which there was plenty of recent evidence.

Some of the 40,000 Hexagonal Basalt Column Tops Forming the Causeway And (Bottom Left) Other Huge Columns Forming Cliffs

Some of the 40,000 Hexagonal Basalt Column Tops Forming The Causeway And (Bottom Left) Other Huge Columns Forming Cliffs

YS took us on to see Dunluce Castle which was one of the locations used for The Game of Thrones television series (Greyjoy Castle apparently).  It is certainly spectacularly located and, when the coronavirus has passed, it would be great to visit this National Trust property more fully.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

We then went on to White Rocks Beach which was a further geological surprise: chalk cliffs backing a beautiful sandy beach.  Then, after a brief walk around Portstewart, we refuelled with breakfast in The Three Kings.

White Rocks Beach, Antrim

White Rocks Beach, Portrush, Antrim

Old Salmon Fisherman's Cottage Near Portstewart

Old Salmon Fisherman’s Cottage Near Portstewart, County Derry/Londonderry

We made and attempted a couple more stops to see some of the dramatic landscapes used in The Game of Thrones series.  But the visits to White Park Bay and Boheeshane Bay were brief or aborted as, by now, crowds of other tourists were gathering and car parking was becoming problematic.  I can feel another 5.30 am start being required next time we visit Northern Ireland to see YS!

White Park Bay, Antrim

White Park Bay, Antrim

There certainly will be a next time.  Some aspects of the tour around Counties Antrim and Down were expected: the calming greenness and the quiet, rural character.  But there were many surprises too and we want to see more.  Perhaps the multi-day itinerary we had planned for a walk along the South West Coastal Path in England last June, but which we had to cancel due to the coronavirus, will switch into an Irish coastal walk rather than just be rescheduled for next year.  Who knows, but we certainly enjoyed this first taster of Northern Ireland very much.